Saturday night was great fun. Exhausting but great. The menu, as far as I know went down well with everyone. I had very positive feedback on the food. It is interesting to note the some of the most popular dishes were the ones that were easiest to prepare and serve. I have been getting a bit overwrought about menu design. I had been feeling that I must give people something ‘special’, something that they wouldn’t normally cook at home. But, as one of my guests said ‘the food is the pretext, the real reason people are here is to do something different, to meet new people and have a good night out’. She went on to say that the food has to be good, so that people don’t feel hard done by. But if they want fancy plating up or innovative techniques they will go to a restaurant with professionally trained chefs and the right equipment. This made me feel good about what I do. I provide good home cooking and an environment where people can have fun, mingle and meet new people. In fact, I have noticed on twitter two of my previous guests arranging to meet up for another night out... a success in my book!
What went well
The hibiscus fizz, an idea taken from Kerstin Rodger’s brilliant book Supperclub (go buy it now), was a real talking point. The combination of champagne coupes, the hibiscus flower and prosecco went down really well. People loved the coupes, there were lots of comments about feeling like James Bond or Marilyn Monroe. Then the flower floating in the fizz provided a great little ice-breaker. There were the adventurous types that dug in and picked their flower out and ate it, and there were the more cautious types that looked on in amazement. I think in that moment everyone decided who they would sit with for the rest of the meal.
The mezze platter was really an afterthought. Something I could prepare in advance and get onto the table relatively quickly. The variety of dips (beetroot dip, butternut squash hummous, Kerstin’s dukkah) and the sharing nature of the mezze platter meant that people got stuck in and were sharing immediately.
The same goes for the almond snake. Not something that you would consider very ‘pudding-ish’ but people said they enjoyed pulling little bites off the snake and passing it around the table. In fact, I think it sustained people so that they could keep going until 2 a.m.! My guests were nibbling non-stop until way past midnight. When I told two of the gents that one table’s almond snake was made with rose water while the other’s was made with orange blossom, they colluded and initiated a swap. I think the almond snake men will be buddies for life now. (That’s sounds a bit sinister!)
What didn’t go so well
People wanted more time to mingle and get to know each other before sitting down. My guests arrived at 7.45 and I had timed my first course to go out soon after 8pm. This, I found out was not a good idea. Not everyone had a chance to chat to each other, which is what I was told what they wanted to do. Some people said they might like the opportunity to change tables after the main course, but this might be difficult to achieve.
Well, I was very unhappy leg of lamb. The meat was excellent. I want to be absolutely clear about that, go buy your organic, Scottish meat from Grierson’s! To say I had a sinking feeling when I started carving, would be an understatement. My heart felt liked it had dropped to the floor. You see, I relied rather heavily on a certain chef’s dual probe digital thermometre so that I could get on with preparing everything else. I used the preset for rare lamb at 60 degrees. I took it out of the oven when the alarm went off, I rested it for half an hour and started carving. There was the merest hint of pink in it, way too over done for my liking. It was still moist, but it looked mildly grey. It looked amateurish. Anyway, my guests were very generous in their praise, but they would be wouldn’t they, they’re nice people. Said thermometre will not be relied upon again!
I had two fish eating guests and I served them a whole roasted sea bream each. Head and all. Big mistake. I felt so bad for them when I put their plates in front of them. I immediately offered to whip them away and get rid of the heads. I still think they struggled with the bones though. They were absolutely lovely about it. But I need to remember that most people are probably a bit more squeamish than I. Afterall, I was a child that used to pick the eyes out of cooked fish and eat them... yes, it’s odd.
Learning points for the future
More mingling at the start. Maybe I’ll serve more canape type food. Some people said they might like the opportunity to change tables after the main course, but this might be difficult to achieve. I guess I will have to play host here and judge the guests and the situation on a case by case basis.
Lot’s more sharing food, I think the mezze platter has taught me that people want lots of little flavour hits to share and move on.
I need to remind myself... it’s home cooking and good hosting that counts. Not show-boating. Good ingredients, simple food and conviviality are key. Onwards and upwards!
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